Diet drinks possibly associated with stroke and dementia, research suggests

Drinking at least one artificially sweetened beverage daily was associated with almost three times the risk of developing a stroke or dementia.

This is compared to those who drank artificially-sweetened beverages less than once a week, according to new research in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke, published today (Thursday 20 April 2017).

The researchers analysed 2,888 people over the age of 45 for the stroke study and 1,484 people over the age of 60 for the dementia part of the study. Over a period of seven years, the researchers reviewed what people were drinking at three different points in time. Participants reported their eating and drinking habits by responding to food frequency questionnaires.

The researchers then followed up with the study subjects for the next 10 years to determine who developed a stroke or dementia, then compared the dietary information to the risk of developing a stroke and dementia over the course of the study. The researchers noted 97 cases (3%) of stroke and 81 (5%) cases of dementia.

The authors caution that the long-term observational study was not designed or able to prove cause and effect, and only shows a trend among one group of people.

Responding to the research, Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society said:

'This research does not show that artificially sweetened drinks cause dementia. But it does highlight a worrying association that requires further investigation.

'Research into dietary factors is very complex and there are a number of issues that need clarifying, for example why drinks sweetened with sugar were not associated with an increased risk in this study, and teasing out links between all types of sugary drinks, diabetes and dementia.

'What we do know is that the things we eat and drink can have an effect on our brain health. Evidence shows that along with eating a healthy diet, including watching what you drink, the best way to reduce your risk of dementia is to take plenty of exercise and stop smoking.'